Top resources and activities to help teachers encourage movement at school

Research shows regular physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior not only boosts physical and mental health but also improves academic performance.

An active school encourages physical activity through a whole-school approach, going beyond traditional physical education and sport to promote physical activity at every opportunity.

The Australian 24-hour Movement Guidelines recommend children and young people between the ages of 5 and 17 accumulate 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. The guidelines also recommend limiting sedentary behavior by breaking up long periods of sitting and ensuring screen time does not exceed 2 hours per day.

A child’s level of physical activity is influenced by many holistic factors including their ability, their family and where they live, go to school and play.

Also, research suggests that when students find activities inherently interesting, meaningful, enjoyable and personally relevant, they’re more likely to continue engaging with these activities outside structured physical education (PE) classes, prompting a lifelong interest in physical activity.

School is often the first place children are exposed to physical activity and sport, and because of the amount of time students spend at school, teachers have a significant influence on them. So it’s essential teachers have resources and ideas to help support and encourage movement in a positive way.

With the concerning scores in the recent Physical Activity Report Card, it’s vital that we reassess and reboot ideas and possibilities around children’s physical activity and how to create more physically active lifestyles for all.

Here are some ideas to encourage movement and increase physical activity time at school.

1. Start at the school gate

Engaging the whole school in increased physical activity ensures a collaborative and unified approach.

All school staff can be positive role models for wellness, and they can be as important as parents in shaping children’s behavior and attitudes towards physical activity.

A whole-school approach reduces conflicting messages and reinforces the concepts learned by students through the formal curriculum.

Whole-school programs can provide multiple opportunities to be active throughout the day, including quality PE; active classrooms; active recesses and lunch breaks; after-school activities; and the promotion of active transportation to school.

During recess and lunch, learning occurs in ways not always possible inside the classroom. Play during these times teaches students important life skills, such as how to make friends, resolve conflicts and become leaders. It also contributes significantly to the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development in a context children view as meaningful.

Simple ways to incorporate movement in all areas of the school include:

  • Painted play spaces for active play, eg line markings for hopscotch
  • Playground challenges at recess and lunch
  • Pop-up play spaces that change on a regular basis
  • A range of easily accessible sports and activity equipment
  • Recruit older students as leaders for structured activities
  • Create a schedule of activities to be offered during recess and lunch breaks throughout the week for variety and catering for different abilities and interests
  • Map your school yard — create different zones for different games and activities
  • Active hallways — mark hallways with tape encouraging students to move in different directions and ways (eg hop, jump or tiptoe) from room to room or when entering and exiting buildings
  • Before and after school programs that encourage physical activity and align with the school values

2. Active breaks in the classroom

Many studies have shown regular active breaks throughout the school day enhance students’ cognitive functioning and ability to sustain focus for academic work. They also help improve classroom behavior, decrease discipline issues, increase classroom motivation levels and strengthen teacher-student relationships.

You can make your classroom more active by holding outdoor or walking classes, or by incorporating outdoor activities and projects in subjects such as maths, science and geography.

Standing lessons are useful in breaking up extended sitting time. Or try delivering the school curriculum using sport, dance, active play or walking.

Here are more great resources for active break ideas:

3. Outdoor learning

With the increasing reliance on technology and technology-based learning, it’s important to go outside and experience different ways of learning whenever possible.

Outdoor learning engages students in practical and active learning experiences in natural environments and settings. Whether taking place in green spaces, on school grounds or in a nearby natural environment, having students engage in outdoor education provides many cognitive, physical, psychological and social benefits.

There are Outdoor Learning Toolkits that help make things easier for teachers, providing ideas and advice on embedding outdoor learning within the Australian Curriculum.

4. Instant activities

Instant activities are tasks students perform at the start of class — be that in the gym, on the courts or even on the oval — to get them moving.

They’re a great way to informally begin the day’s classes, or even to review something you may have done in the previous lessons.

All it takes is a bit of thinking and planning and you’ll have students moving, being engaged and maybe having some fun, enabling you to decrease your classroom management time while simultaneously increasing your students’ on-task time.

Here are some ideas and resources to get you started:

5. Independent activities

The pandemic has had an unprecedented global impact on participation in sport and physical activity, with research highlighting a significant shift from team-based organized sports to more individual physical activities.

AusPlay data shows individual activity is more strongly associated with physical and mental health, as people must learn to depend on themselves. Solo sports offer a way to reduce stress and lead to better organizational and decision-making skills.

Research shows every sport or activity has unique characteristics that appeal to different interests, abilities, genders, age groups and expectations, so make sure this is catered for in schools, whether it’s dancing, gymnastics, cycling, running and walking, yoga, orienteering or athletics.

6. Inclusion and diversity

Inclusive education is about how schools are developed and designed — including classrooms, programs and activities — so all students learn and participate together.

One of the challenges of teaching is understanding how to create inclusive opportunities for all students, for example, being mindful of learning difficulties; challenging behaviours; English as an additional language (EAL); students with a disability; various linguistic, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; and student intrinsic motivation.

Adopting strength-based approaches are a key principle of inclusive education. And creating an inclusive culture for physical education and physical activity helps every student learn to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

These seven pillars of inclusion are a great starting point to guide inclusion:

  • Access — Do all learners have physical access and feel welcome?
  • Attitude — What is your attitude towards diversity and inclusion?
  • Choice — Are there a range of ways to participate?
  • Partnerships — Who will you work with, and who will support you?
  • Communication — What methods of communication will you use?
  • Policy — How are you committed and responsible for inclusion?
  • Opportunities — Have you made practical changes so all learners have equal opportunity to participate?

The Australian Sports Commission’s inclusive activity cards use the TREE model to support inclusion by modifying traditional sports and activities by changing the teaching style, rules, equipment or environment.

The following organizations have great resources and programs to support inclusion and diversity:

7. Initiatives and programs

These ideas can be incorporated into a whole-school approach to engage students to be more physically active:

More resources

Visit ABC Education to enter the Your Move poster competition for primary students and for more resources on student health.

The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER), Victorian Branch, is a not-for-profit organization working towards the state’s education goals.